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Oppression and Opposition


Oppression and Opposition Following the conclusion of the Seventeen Point Agreement, the Chinese army, which was already in occupation of easternTibet, marched into Lhasa and the other major towns and cities of Tibet.And now commenced a period of increasing troubles, trails and tribulations for the Tibetan people. The Chinese not only occupied an extensive area to quater their army and requisitioned a large number of houses, but also made huge demands on the food supply.Tibet's simple economy was unable to stand the stress of these continued demands, and it was not long before prices spiralled sky high and for the first time inTibetan history a famine condition prevailed. Discontenment grew and along with it, resentm,ent against the Chinese army whic had abviously come to stay and expected Tibet to feed it indefinitely.

When Chamdo fell, the Dalai Lama had fled for safety to Dromo, close to the Sikkimese frontier. Behind Him in Lhasa, He left to able Prime Ministers with full powers to handle the affairs of the State, except those requiring His personal attention. Of the two Prime Ministers, one was a top ranking monk offical called Lobsang Tashi and the other Lhukhangwa, an extremely capable, experienced and courageous lay administtrator.

As bitterness against the Chinese mounted, the Tibetan Government was subjected to forceful and repeated complaints from then Chinese authorities, who accused the Dalai lama's two Prime Ministers of leading a consiracy against them. At a meeting with the members of the Kashag, the Chinese generals often lost their temper and insulted the Tibetans. A crises arose when thet Chinese announced that they intended to absorb the Tibetan troops into the 'People's Liberation Army'. in accordance with the terms of the Seventeen Point Agreement. The Dalai Lama's Prime Minsiter Lhukhangwa strongly protested against the move. He pointed out at the meeting that the people of Tibet did not accept the agreement and the Chinese themselves had violated some of its terms. He spoke strongly as a true patriot and criticised the Chinese bluntly for their forceful occupation of eastern Tibet. In another verbal battle, he refused to have the Tibetan flag replaced by the Chinese one on the Tibetan army barracks.

Lhukhangwa's uncompromising attitude angered the Chinese, who regarded him as a serious trouble maker. Pressure was made upon the Dalai Lama and His kashag for his removal from the office. As recorded in his memoirs, His Holiness, in the interest of Lhukhanwa's own safety and future of the country, sadly accepted the Kashag's recommendation and asked both the Prime Ministers to resign. No successors were appointed. After this ugly incident the Chinese maintaind a show of friendliness.

In the summer of 1952 they suggested that a delegation of Tibetan Officals and other citizens should visit China to see for themselves the conditions in that country and the 'freedom' of religion enjoyed by the people there. They prepared a long list of thirteen families, including mine, who were invited to send one member of their family to China. I had no desire to accept this invitation, odious as it was and which infact was in the nature of an order. Eventually, I avoided the trip to China bvy sending one of my employee, Phuntsok, who I pretented was a near relative of mine. The Tibetan Govenment met the travelling expenses of the delegates from Lhasa to Chamdo, and from the latter point onwards all the expenses were borne by the Chinese. The Chinese took them on grand conducted tour of Peking and several other cities in China, Inner Mongolia and north-east China. Everywhere they were treated to lectures on the progress made by the country under the communist regime and asked to publicise its blessings on their return to Tibet. The delegates were given photographs of Chinese military parades and public works and pamphlets describing the improvements attained by the Chinese. On their return to Tibet, the delegation again submitted a report on China. No one, however, was decieved by these propaganda stunts sponsored by the Chinese, and it was implicitly understood that the Tibetans who participated in it had been forced against their free will. According to Phuntsok's opinion, expressed to me privately, the Chinese pamplets were - in plain language - simply a long list of lies.

After this visit, more groups composed of representatives from religious and trading cirlces and the Tibetan youth were also taken on a tour of China. In 1954 the Dalai Lama himself was invited by the Chinese Government to visit China. Suspecting a sinister motive behind the invitationand fearing that the Dalai Lama might not be permitted to return to Tibet, the Tibetans were opposed to the visit. But there was little they could do to prevent it. His Holiness regarded it as His duty to go to China in an effort to persuade the highest authorities there to keep their promises. On the day of His departure, I was among the many who prayed frevently for His safe and speedy return to Tibet and listened to His sermons in front of the mausolem of Lama Tsongkhapa and Choegyal. I was priviledged with the opportunity of having a private audience with the Dalai Lama and received His precious blessigns. As a mark of reverence, respect and gratitute, I offered a set of seven golden bowls weighing a hundred and ninety tolas and a gold lamp weighing sixty three tolas.

The Dalai Lama's absence from Tibet lasted for about a year till the middle of 1955. He met Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-Lai and other Chinese leaders and had several conversations with them about Tibet and its future. His Holiness had states in His memoirs that Mao Tse-tung had expressed his happiness at Tibet's return to the 'Motherland' but assured the Dalai Lama that the Chinese had not come to His country to exercise any kind of authority over the Tibetan people. This assurance of course was belied by what was happening even then in Tibet and more so by subsequent events. Mao told the Dalai Lama that it had been decided to set up a 'Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Regions of Tibet'. The Committee was to consist of fifty one members, of whom all except five would be Tibetans. The Dalai Lama was to be the Chairman and the Panchen Lama and a Chinese official vice-chairman.

The Committee was to undertake the task of preparing the country for regional autonomy by setting up sub-committee for economic and religious affairs. On the face of it the Committee appeared ti have weightage in favour of the Tibetans; its actual composition however was such that - as later developments showed - authority was almost wholly vested in the Chinese. Only fifteen members represented the Tibetan Government, eleven were to be chosen by monasteries, religious sects and public bodies and ten each by two new bodies which the Chinese had created - namely, the 'Chamdo Liberation Committee' of eastern Tibet and the 'Panchen Lama's Committee' at Shigatse, west of Lhasa. The remaining five seats were to be filled by Chinese officials, and all the appointments had to be approved by the Chinese Government.

On His return to Tibet, the Dalai lama was warmly welcomed by people from every section of the society, and receptions were held at Datsedo, Chamdo and Kongpo(east of Lhasa) on His route to the Tibetan capital. In Lhasa itself there was a huge gathering of government officials, incarnated Lamas, monks and other citizens in His honour. The Tibetan army held a parade and long lines of monks carried religious banners. Everyone's heart was filled with joy and relief. There was general thanks giving; prayers were offered at the Norbulingka, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama. The ceremony ended with a sermon by His Holiness.

In the midst of this rejoicing there was a foreboding disaster. Most people in Lhasa were not aware of the drastic changes which the Chinese were carrying out with much ruthlessness in eastern Tibet. Others such as myself had however received many reports of their cruelty and the bitter, mounting resentment of the people. Traders arriving in Lhasa from Siling. Bathang, Markham and other places in that area brought many tales of Chinese oppressions. According to them the Chinese had forcibly collected millions of silver coins from the local people; the pretext being that funds were sorely needed to pay the salaries of the troops and to meet other military needs. Those who had no cash were coerced into selling their livestocks and supplies of foodgrains to meet this levy. Along with such outrageous taxes, the Chinese had begun experimenting with their program of so-called reforms and the 'Liberation' of the countryside, as early as 1952.

In the area of Gyalthang, southern Kham, the following year, the local population was divided into five strata and a terror campaign of selective arrests launched by the Chinese. People belonging to the first three strata were either humiliated or condemned to the firing squad. Scores of Tibetans were arrestes and many of them were shot mercilessly at mass gatherings. This alarming development reached such a stage that the Chinese had destroyed thousands of monasteries in the area of Bathang, Lithang, Gyalthang, Derge and many places in Amdo. The entire wealth of the monasteries including sacred images and scriptures were seized and removed to China. Many Lamas and monks were imprisoned without reason, others subjected to various ignominies or condemned to death after a farcial trial. A number of wealthy farmers and businessmen who had accumulated property through many generations were branded as capitalists; their wealth was confiscated, their houses sealed and the owner thrown out, resourceless and defenceless. The poorer people were forced to work in vegetable gardens, on road and building constructions without wages. At the same time the Chinese launched an intensive proaganda drive, seizing hundreds of Tibetan youths and sending them for communist education to China.

In April 1956 the Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet was inaugurated by the Chinese Deputy Prime Minister, marshal Chen Yi, who came to Lhasa specially for this purpose. Although the Dalai Lama and His cabinet were prepared to give a fair trial to the constitution scheme drawn by the Chinese, it soon became apparent that the so-called autonomy was nothing less than a farce. With solid bloc of controlled Tibetan votes in the Committee in addition to those of the Chinese members, the real representatives of the Tibetan people had little voice in decision making. In anycase all important decisions were made by another body, 'the Committe of the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet', which had no Tibetan representatives.

When the Tibetan people began to learn how the Chinese were foisting their authority and their own system of government on the country, the simmering discontentment against the them, nurtured by the stories of atrocities in the east, grew into open resentment and hostility. Public meetings were held to protest against the new organisation. Resolutions were passed and copies sent to the Chinese officials, the Kashag and the Office for Internal Affairs. They demanded that all the members of the Preparatory Committee should be appoInted with the approval of the Tibetan people and that the Dalai Lama should be consulted on all matters concerning the welfare to the Tibetan people and that too in view of the unique personality of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama should not have to attend the meetings of the Committee or any other meetings called by the Chinese. Another popular demand was that Tibet should continue to have its own currency and its circulation should not be stopped.

The Chinese were of course determined to crush all opposition to their policies. Under pressure from them the Dalai Lama and His cabinet were obliged to issue a proclamation banning public meetings and asked the people to refrain from any thing that would impair the good relations between Tibet and China. But popular opinion could not of course be suppressed by such neasures and it found expression in other ways.
I contacted several big trades in Lhasa and the heads of Kham monasteries. We agreed that we could no longer continue to remain silent spectators of Chinese atrocities. Encouraged by the response, I distributed leaflets exhorting all Tibetan to unite and protect their freedom and country in an active and not - what was until now - a passive posture.

The Monlam festival, held in Lhasa at the beginning of 1956, gave popular Tibetan leaders an opportunity to express their resentment and to renew their demands which, in a nutshell, were that the Chinese should go away and leave Tibet to the Tibetans. But the Chinese had come to stay and were more resolved than ever to crush all agitations. They indulged in many threats and insisted that the Kashag should issue orders for the arrest of three prominent leaders - Alo Choenze of Kham, Tsodak Lhakchung of Shigatse abd the Secretary of Lhoka Bumthang - who, they alledged, were responsible for the distribution of anti-Chinese pamphlets and posters in the city. Although these people had broken no Tibetan Law, the Kashag had no option but to imprison them in the interests of their own safety.

When I returned to Lhasa from a business trip, I learnt of the incident and immediately arranged a meeting with the three men, trying to devise some means for their escape or release from prison. After consulting some infuential officials and incarnated lamas, I decided that the best way to help them was to appeal to the authorities through the three big monasteries - Sera, Ganden and Drepung. To get the monasteries to move on behalf of the imprisoned men, I had to contact many individuals and about a dozen Khangtsens or regional monastic groups. I also approached the Security Department of the Tibetan Government but the department refused to act without instructions from the Kashag. Unfortunately, these contacts wavered and the withdrawal of support of some Khangtsens, who had second thoughts about their involvement, resulted in much delay and one of the men Tsodak Lhakchung died in prison. I made an offering of one hundred 'dorzes' (Tibetan currency) for butter lamps in his memory. The abbots of the three monasteries later appealed to teh Kashag to release the other two men and stood surety for their behaviour. The appeal was accepted and the men released with a warning that they should not engage in such activities in future.

I was impressed by Alo Choenze and thought he might be useful in furthering Tibet's cause if he could go to India. I provided him two horses and a 40 Calibre pistol with fully loaded magazine. He then proceeded secretly to India via Bhutan.

The need for organised resistance against the Chinese was becoming increasingly urgent and vital, but we had to make our moves with much caution and circumspection. In December 1956 (the tenth Tibetan month of the Fire Monkey Year) I thought it was time to enlist the support of various nationalist elements in Kham. So, on the pretext of undertaking a business trip, three of my men proceeded to DoKham (south-eastern Tibet) with a message from me to various leaders in the area. The message read, "For some time you people have been rebelling against the Red Chinese. The time has come now to muster all you courage and put your bravery to the test. I know you are prepared to risk your lives and exert all your strenght to defend Tibet. I also know that the tremendous task that you have undertaken is a noble cause and that you will have no regrets despite the ghastly atrocities committed by the enemy. In this hour of peril, I appeal to all people, including government servants, who value their freedom and religion to unite in the common struggle against the Chinese. Messages are being sent to people in other parts of Tibet and the neighboring countries, such as India to explain that the Tibetans have now no alternative but to take up arms against the Chinese."